Tuesday, March 3, 2015

On Leadership, Mentoring, and Embracing Change: A First Timers Reflections on PantheaCon

(This is the second post in my series based upon my experiences at my first PantheaCon. Though I discuss one of the PCon panels, the issues of leadership and developing communities reaches far beyond. I hope this contributes to continued discussions on how to create healthy networks of communities)

One of the panels I attended at PantheaCon was Turning the Wheel: Nurturing Young Leaders and Embracing Change.  Many of the panelists discussed their challenges as leaders, and the strides they have made in trying to reach out to the next generation. There were some very good points made, and overall I wish we had much more time to really delve into the topic. 
The recording is now up on Elemental Castings. I encourage you to listen to it – you may hear things differently and leave with a different take away.  Besides, there was a lot of laughter. Don’t take my word for any of it. Go listen!

Now, this panel was not staffed by young people – they all seemed to be around 30 and over – and this fact was owned up front by all of the participants. Jason Pitzl even yielded his chair to a younger leader when (teasingly) called out on it. I have great respect for many of the participants that were on this panel and seeing that this subject, which is something I am passionate about, was going to be discussed was one of the reasons I decided to attend PantheaCon for the first time.

I’m also glad that I did not agree with everything that was said, because it got me thinking in different ways about how we approach creating networks of healthy communities.

One of the things that got me about this panel was that, when it came time to ask questions, a few college-age Pagans spoke up, and asked about how to get invited into established spaces, how to be taken seriously, and what can they do to pursue the path of leadership. The responses that were given by the panel came across to me like a "pick yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality. The suggestions included "just be persistent, knock the door down, push against the glass ceiling, make yourself be heard, fake it until you make it" and eventually people (implying people in positions of leadership) will take notice. I know the people on the panel are not proponents of bootstrap mentality, and I understand what I believe is the sentiment behind the responses: Don’t give up, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, don’t let anything hold you back.

But I’ve also heard these same pieces of advice from people who were in powerful positions and used them as ways to abdicate themselves of their responsibility to mentor and guide. And the same rhetoric is used by the individualistic, self-determination, capitalist proponents.

I was a young leader. By 25 I had co-established the first Goddess Temple in the Southeast, was leading large group rituals, had been teaching for several years, and facilitated a few small Circles. I'm not the majority, I understand that. But I had a lot of support along the way, people that somehow recognized what I was still figuring out, people that showed up for me, who welcomed me and guided me. It was hard. And I did a lot of it by my own determination and persistence. But never was I told to just pull myself up by my bootstraps and keep going. The people that I am honored to call my friends and supporters (both here and across the veil) were always there to help me – even if I didn’t always see it at the time.

I'm in my early 30s now, and personally I feel that it is an even more awkward stage than the 20s... but we'll get to that later.

How does this expectation that young people are supposed to figure it out on their own help to create healthy, creative, accountable communities? As one friend put it, in the 70s and 80s we(they) had to figure it out as they went along, because it hadn't been done before. But now, there are at least two generations of Pagans that can help the next generation. They don't have to make it all up. The way I see it, this generation is the first to truly have the opportunity and the burden of learning from those who came before and then working towards building a better future. But, it is up to us (the old guard) to change the culture so that it welcomes new leaders, new ideas, and new experiences. That is our responsibility, not theirs.

We seem to have a blind spot when it comes to the next generation.

We’ve allowed a very culturally-embedded difference to become a battleground – the generation gap. All too often I see an Elder or a Seeker denigrated because they said the “wrong” thing or don’t follow the same theory of tradition and practice that someone thinks they should. The younger generation looks at the older generation as people on pedestals that are holding them down, and the older generation looks at the younger like up and comers who are trying to change everything they worked so hard for. There is no trust, no love, no appreciation. This generation gap is only serving to divide and conquer. If the elders are always dismissive of the youth, and the youth are always angry at the elders, how will we ever learn and come together and work on the really hard stuff? We won’t. And then the ‘Oppressive Powers That Be’ win.

Our movement is inherently resistant to authority and rejects the idea of there being centralized leadership, which is a powerful resistance in this world. But the fact is we do have leaders and people who step into roles of leadership. These people are the Big Name Pagans (rightly or wrongly so) and the person who decides to start a group in their town because there is nothing else. We can acknowledge this and choose to model a different way, a healthier way, of shared power and well-developed leaders. Or we can continue to ignore it and suffer from those who will use the opportunity to seize power and wield it harmfully. I think it is time to model a better way.

So, how do we help develop the next generation of leaders? How do we create healthy networks of communities?

There are many ways to develop leadership, but as a movement Earth Based Religions (which I use as an umbrella term) are just starting to figure it out. So we look to other religions and other fields, gathering what feels right to our bosom and cutting away the rest. It’s a process, and with all of the other causes that are so front and center (and rightly so) it sometimes feels like this one should take a backseat. But I think it is essential to the healing and change we need. We haven’t been doing it right – and I can tell you that the younger generation sees it, and feels it, and doesn’t want to inherit it… and has some pretty damn good ideas about how to change it. 

I actually don’t believe that you can ‘teach’ leadership. You can teach some tools, share your own mistakes and talk theoretical scenarios. But you can’t just get up in front of a group, give a presentation on leadership (or a hundred presentations) and then say they are ready to be a leader. Leadership must be developed. It is a continuous process. It means making mistakes again and again and again. And it takes ongoing support.

My favorite leadership development model is a mentorship model. This model is one of the most time and energy intensive, but also has the greatest potential for individual and collective reward. To be successful, it also has to have a solid foundation of respect and trust, with a clear understanding of expectations and commitment. 

Learning never ends, and even the most experienced and skilled among us will have times when another perspective or someone else’s guidance is helpful. Never should we place a leader, elder, or mentor up on a pedestal and expect them to always have to figure it out on their own, either. Being in a position of leadership (as opposed to claiming a Title) is often tiring, draining, stressful work with little reward and few opportunities of reciprocity. We must build networks of support; communities that share power and value each other’s experiences and insights.

Naturally, these networks must be developed. You can’t create community-by-policy. And reciprocity becomes a huge issue – it can easily start to feel like you are doing all the giving and none of the receiving while mentoring. We can’t – and shouldn’t – dictate community or try to create it through policy. But we can create some loose structures to support the nurturing of community. For quite some time, I’ve been tumbling around the idea of a mentorship network. 

Now, I actually detest the term “mentor.” So, in tumbling around this idea, and discussing it with my dear friend Byron Ballard, I came up with the idea of Buds and Blooms

A healthy community, like an ecological system, is one of diversity, solid roots, room to breathe, supportive shelter, and healthy nourishment. The smallest beetle to the largest mammal and everything in between all have an important role to play; without any of them the entire system collapses. We must remember this in our networks and models of leadership as well.

So, a healthy leadership network has buds and blooms – but even the blooms need the support of the rest of the community to thrive, and the buds need the support so they can come full bloom. Different plants have different blooming cycles, just as different people come into their own bloom at different periods of their life – and they may die back and re-bloom again and again. 

This network of buds and blooms would allow everyone the opportunity to mentor and guide someone else, thus fulfilling the need for a feeling of reciprocity and building a community of support. Everyone would be paired up with their own bud, even those in their first sprouting. (Ok, am I losing you in the metaphor? Let’s just break this down into straight-forward terms)

My ideas for the development of healthy leadership are based in the belief that all voices and points of view are valued, and everyone has something to offer. The newest of newbs can support other newbies on their journey, and offer perspectives on the experience to the person guiding them, so that person can continue to grow as a leader. Experienced leaders can support one another instead of compete, and help each other through the journey of leadership with all of the ups and downs and mistakes and victories and exhaustion. 

Its been shown in mentorship models (yuck) that it is best to partner with someone who is not so far removed from your own current level of experience, so that they can still relate and feel the relevance of what you are experiencing. So when looking for a mentor, keep that in mind. Don’t aim for the BNP with 30 years of experience if you are fresh with 2 years of experience (and that is for many reasons). Discuss your current experiences, what you are struggling with, what you hope to learn – and if the person can’t relate to any of it or talks down to you in any way, they are probably not the person for you. Get references, ask around about their style and if anyone has any concerns. Once you find someone you can relate with, then it is time to set very clear agreements and expectations for the both of you, and create clear lines of communication. 

Ok, back to my metaphor of the buds and the blooms and creating some structure to help nurture leadership and communities.  I know we (as in the umbrella we) are generally resistant to structures – but, given the minority of our religions and spiritualties, and that many people do not live near others who can provide them guidance or can’t publically seek others out for any reason, I think some structures can have a place. So creating a network of individuals to guide one another could be a huge gift to our communities. There would have to be some kind of vetting process, particularly for Blooms. People would be paired and grouped in small nexuses (like galaxies), according to a diverse yet complementary mix of experience and needs, sharing support and power among one another (which would also help prevent any abuse). The validity of all perspectives and levels of experience would be emphasized and valued, while also creating the space for guidance for all regardless of experience.

Let’s take each other off the pedestals, offer our hands to those patiently waiting in the wings, and call each other in to the circle. We are all sacred, all divine, all worthy of respect and all inherently valuable. It’s time to co-create the future we deserve, take back our power, and show the “normals” how it can be done.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Community That Wasn't: A First Timers Reflections on PantheaCon

(This is the first in a series of posts about my experiences and thoughts following my first PantheaCon. This post is meant as both a recap and general critique of my experiences - and my experiences alone. Future posts will delve more in depth into specific topics.)

I passed through the double sliding doors, and immediately made eye contact with someone I knew – a person with whom I had engaged in a few meaningful conversations online and via Skype, and shared physical space with a few years ago. I smiled as this person locked eyes and recognition flashed across their face; then, without any additional acknowledgement, looked away and returned attention to the congregation of Big Name Pagans.

This was my first time attending PantheaCon. I’ve lived on the West coast for almost 5 years, 3 of them in the Bay Area. I’m originally from the Southeast, where the stuff that happens on the West coast doesn’t feel particularly important. I’m also an experienced Witch that has been actively learning, teaching, and participating in communities for almost 18 years, though I still fall under the “young leader” umbrella (more about that later). I never felt like attending PantheaCon, and honestly it felt both overwhelming and irrelevant. As I started to engage more within the Pagan blogosphere and social media, and became more familiar with West coast Paganism, all I could imagine was that a national indoor conference of 2500+ Pagans would be a massive clusterf*ck. And a place where those we elevate enjoy their position on the pedestal and the rest of us sit at their feet.

Over the last few years, a lot of things have been shifting in my world. I’m at a place where I once again have more questions than answers, where my Saturn return has left me feeling at the beginning of another Journey of the Fool and my nearly two decades of experience is from another lifetime. Then again, I’ve been known to be hard on myself. In the past several months I have been receiving a lot of internal and external affirmations of my path and place within this grand scheme of life. It came to occur to me that I really should attend this conference at least once, that it could be a very clarifying experience, and if I was going to do it now was the time.

It was clarifying, and confusing. Intense, and interesting. I’m not going to tell you that you should attend at least once too. But in many ways I am glad that I did, criticisms aside. I don’t know if I will return though some friends and I have some fun ideas about shaking things up a bit.

I wanted to know, would this feel like community? Would I walk into any of the spaces at PantheaCon and immediately feel like I was surrounded by my community, my tribe, by people that welcomed me? Would I feel accepted?

The first session I attended was Gods and Radicals: Anti-Capitalist Resistance and Pagan Practice, by Alley Valkyrie and Rhyd Wildermuth. I consider Alley a friend and comrade, so I was glad to start my official PantheaCon experience with a welcoming hug and diving right in to one of my passions. Surprisingly, the room was filled beyond capacity and discussions remained thoughtful and civil, even with the stifling heat from a room that had not been cooled. There was an obvious yearning for more discussion and action around anti-capitalism as it intersects with spiritual practice. I am hopeful that maybe Pagandom does care about issues that aren’t just the latest hot topic, that there are Pagans ready to get at the core issues of power and oppression and empire. This felt good and safe and welcoming.

The times in between sessions and over lunch and dinner are chaotic. I was prepared for large crowds and was well shielded to be surrounded by 2500+ Pagans and magic workers for 3 days; I can have a pretty imposing presence and solid boundaries when I choose to. Where I live now, there is a nasty practice by some witches who feel entitled to poke and prod at another witch’s energy body anytime you share space with them. I hadn’t encountered much of this before, and thought it was just a local thing. But at PantheaCon, I felt it. The little tugs, the pokes, the feeling of being ‘undressed by someone’s [energetic] eyes.’ Nope, this was definitely not community.

In the afternoon I attended Turning the Wheel: Nurturing Young Leaders and Embracing Change. I was excited for this panel, as it is also a subject I care deeply about and I have a lot of respect for several of the people that were on the panel (specifically Thorn Coyle, Jason Pitzl, and Shauna Aura Knight, who I am the most familiar with their work). I’ll have another piece up about my experiences of and thoughts following this panel, but for now suffice it to say I left with more questions than answers and still wondering “is this really my community?

There were several people I wanted to connect with face to face during the Con, for various reasons. Accomplishing that task was a bit more difficult than I anticipated (and I anticipated it would be very difficult). At the end of a session, there was generally a rush of people to snag the attention of the presenter(s), and then little groups that break off of folks already familiar with each other. If you’re not fast or already a part of a little clique, getting some face time is challenging. You can try to snag someone during one of the meal breaks, but personally I would eat someone who came between me and my meal if I was hungry… so that wasn’t a good option for me. Mostly, it just seemed to happen by synchronicity or through sheer patience.

Saturday evening I attended the Bringing Race to the Table panel. I found a seat on the inside edge of the room, so I could be best positioned to listen and hold space and fade out of the way if I needed to. A lot has already been shared about what happened at this panel. I will say I was very glad to see a panel again own up to the fact that they were a very poor representation for the discussion, as only one panelist was a person of color Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir, in addition to the moderator Crystal Blanton. The discussion was intense and often uncomfortable and sometimes frustrating. I was sitting next to Luna Pantera, and when she stood to speak for the trauma and pain she was experiencing, it washed over me. When I heard her battle cry for us, as magic workers, to get up and do some damn magic, I threw my hands and energy into the air in support. When she sat down again, sobbing as I felt the waves of pain rolling off of her, I did the only thing I could do and breathe slowly next to her, sending my pain and I hope a little of hers back into the Earth with a prayer. At the end of the panel, as Luna’s friends came to comfort her, I met my eyes with one woman in particular, we smiled at each other, and I quickly and quietly slipped out of the way. That was the best way I knew to be of support in that moment.

I was curious about the hospitality suites since they get talked about so much, and wondered where they would be located (this hotel must have a lot of meeting rooms!). Actually, the suites are located in regular hotel rooms or larger hotel suites – which made sense once I realized it, but for me poses a bit of a problem. A bunch of people I don’t really know crowded into an unknown hotel room (with or without beds) – yeah definitely trigger material. So that was a barrier to me accessing those spaces, but I did make a go of it.

Walking into the suites, I felt awkward and received varying degrees of welcome. If there were already intense discussions or an event happening, it was much more likely I was ignored. If it was fairly quiet I was invited to sit and chat and have a drink, until someone came in that was more well-known at which point I was pretty much ignored even as I tried to engage. I left most of the hospitality suites feeling like a stranger in a strange land, and wondering just how we define hospitality.

Since I attended all social justice events on Saturday, I decided Sunday would be a day for me to attend events more focused on spirituality and practice. I started the day by donating blood; I thought it was amazing that this had been coordinated as a spiritual offering for the Con. The process itself took way longer than I expected so I missed the first event I had planned for. But, this opened the space for me to socialize and I made some of the face to face connections I was hoping for. Jason Pitzl was one of those people and I had a very enjoyable conversation with him and a friend. There are people at PCon, well known people even, who are genuinely open and excited to meet others and it is the interactions with those individuals that led me to feel like there was some community to be had.

Oddly enough, I frequently found myself hanging out in Vendor Land as a kind of safe space. I’m not going to unpack that much, other than I did have a couple of friends/acquaintances with booths so I would hang out there for a little while wandering. But it felt comfortable, like I could be there without needing a reason to be there.

I hadn’t seen Starhawk in a few years, so I attended her ritual workshop on Ritual and Storytelling. I can’t say I found the material particularly informative, but the ritual we co-created was sweet. I am continually surprised, even with all of the struggle and discussions around community, when Pagans get into a ritual together we have no trouble supporting one another and sharing really private things. I am not sure if that is a good or bad thing, but it does make me wonder why we can’t carry that into all of our interactions with each other?

Humans are funny creatures.

In the evening I attended Shauna Aura Knight’s discussion on Leadership – Boundaries, Communication, and Groups. I was pleased with her facilitation and creating a safe container for discussion, but as was the case with all of the sessions it didn’t feel like enough time. By this time in the conference I had learned a little more about how to get things done, and since she was one of the people I had been meaning to connect with I waited for the crowd to disperse so we could meet briefly.

Time. Time is a commodity at such a large conference. The schedule is packed and run very tightly – so there is little time to mingle after a session before someone comes to clear the room.

I was looking forward to Kali Puja all weekend. I attended some of Sharanya’s pujas in San Francisco and have had some really wonderful discussions with Chandra. I knew the power of the puja, but wasn’t quite sure what to expect with such a large group of people. Well, I was taken by surprise. I went deeper and connected more strongly with the yearning of, for, and by Ma Kali than I ever have. As I rocked in ecstatic abandon, tears of joy and release streaming down my face, I felt the love that was in that room and the longing that we all share for connection with the Goddesses/Gods. Even as I type this, I feel the tears welling up. We are indeed so hungry, so in need of authentic connection – with each other, with the spirits of the land, with the Deities.

I don’t fully understand yet why we don’t have it, why a group of people that believe so strongly in the divinity that is all around and within us and outside of us have such a hard time building and sustaining nurturing communities – but I think back to Luna’s call for us to ‘just do some damn magic already’ and Elena Rose’s poignant thought that ‘if we're going to stop eating each other we're going to have to start feeding each other something better’.

In the room next to us, the Pagans of Color Caucus was happening. I observed the Ally Sentinels as they gathered while I was in line for the puja. At the time, I wasn’t aware of the other events that had been occurring. And, I knew I was where I needed to be. But during puja I had the distinct feeling that we were doing important work of support as well, creating a temple of love and joy, praying to a Goddess who had long been relegated to a position of darkness and evil, while People of Color who were experiencing such hurtful acts and incredible pain were doing their own healing.

The ironic thing about community is that by opening ourselves to it, we also open ourselves to the possibility of members of that community causing us pain. As in any relationship, I don’t think that the causing of pain means there is no community. But to be in community, there has to be trust that the pain caused is not intentional, and we have to assume the best intentions until proven otherwise. I saw very little of either over the weekend.

On Monday I attended a session that was pulling at me: Beyond the Gates of the Seer Divining the Oracular in Community. I seldom go to Seidh or other oracular rituals because it makes me uncomfortable to have a single priest/ess on a throne divining the Gods. However, I have always been a natural seer and oracle and am at a place where I am seeking more support around that. When I arrived I felt a very strong connection with the two Priestesses and realized I had run into them the day before and felt a tug of sisterly recognition and a need to speak, but the opportunity passed. I later realized I had met one of them at some Priestess events in San Francisco.

The goal to create a community of oracles felt lofty, but so important. I had an intense experience at the ritual and definitely felt a connection with some of the other strong visionaries in the room. But, as soon as the ritual ended that connection was gone, and people fled in their separate directions. I was finally able to speak briefly with one of the Priestesses, but that interaction too was cut short.

After taking some more time to ground myself, I walked through the hotel lobby area one last time, feeling out if there was anything left for me to do. No, I was ready to leave.

After we left my husband drove us out to Santa Cruz so I could put my feet in the Pacific again – this siren can’t avoid the pull of the Ocean, and indeed as soon as I stepped onto the beach a huge wave came and bathed my feet, while a school of dolphins appeared in the surf. That was the perfect end to the weekend, and a reaffirmation.

This weekend has stimulated a catacomb of thoughts that I hadn’t fully explored, and for that I am grateful. It was right for me to be there, and will be an experience I look back on and continue to unpack for many years even if I never return.

A synopsis of my thoughts and experiences:

We are a long way from creating any kind of cohesive Pagan community, and most attempts at creating huge infrastructure to do that are going to struggle while we try to figure out what community is and even if we want it.

The sessions at PCon help create a very brief sense of community – but in my experience were fleeting as people rushed off to ‘the next big thing’.

I don’t care who you are, nothing excuses blatant rudeness.

More effort needs to be made by those who are well known to welcome and create space for those who are struggling to find their place.

For all of its massiveness and amount of coordination, I did feel that overall PCon was more “for the people, by the people” than I expected. But, my expectation was very low.

My suggestions to other first-timers:

Don’t carry any expectations about what is going to happen. Let intuition and synchronicity guide you.

There are moments of opportunity for authentic connection Seize them, treasure them.

Don’t attend something just because you feel like you should or because there is a big name on the presenter list. It is unlikely you will get to connect individually with them. Attend what calls to you – you may be surprised at what you get out of it.

If you have any challenges around attending events by yourself, bring a friend. It could be overwhelming and feel a bit lonely if you don’t know anyone.

Be prepared to push yourself and the edges of your boundaries. Let the experience move you.

Don’t be ashamed to ‘check out’ if you need to – find a quiet spot, go back to your room, opt out of some events. The more self-care you practice the more you will get out of the event.

Feel free to love it or hate it, to agree or disagree, to feel like it is the most amazing event ever or complete bullshit. All of it is ok.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A perspective for #AllLivesMatter

In the Pagan community, there is a unique respect for life.  All life is sacred, is immanently divine. So it makes sense that some people feel it is important to maintain that focus, to try to prevent false dichotomies and the creation of a hierarchy of life that is valued. I can understand that underlying concern behind the conversation.

But you see, that is already what has been happening. For centuries in the United States, some lives have been valued more than others. Black people are not always at the bottom of that hierarchy, it’s true. There are many lives that have fallen victim to the patriarchal over-culture.

For me, coming up in the feminist Goddess movement, my focus and concern has always been the influence of patriarchy on society. My knee jerk reaction is to say: “But, WOMEN are a larger group than any single race or culture. What about THE WOMEN!” However, we have enough awareness to recognize that patriarchy does not only affect women. And make no mistake, it is patriarchy and the oppress-and-dominate over-culture that is at fault for all devaluing of life.

My teacher, Shekhinah Mountainwater, told me the story of the 100th Monkey. I don’t know how factual it is, but it goes something like this: there was an isolated community of monkeys living in a rainforest near a river. The monkeys would gather food as they do. One day, a female started washing her food in the river. The next day, another monkey joined her. Each day, another monkey would join this revolutionary group, but the rest of the group continued gathering food the usual way, dirt and all. On the 100th day, another monkey joined. Seeing how many monkeys had joined the river group, suddenly all the monkeys started washing their food.

This story illustrates the concept of the “tipping point” or critical mass. There was no indication as to why all of the monkeys suddenly decided to change their behavior pattern. But suddenly, one act changed the entire community.

We can no longer ignore the fact that in our society, at this time, Black people are disproportionately victimized by police brutality, the prison industrial complex, and the daily effects of racism and prejudice. We are reaching critical mass. This does not leave out any other race, culture, or community. What it means is that THIS is the act that has the potential to start large-scale social change. It even has historical precedence (who can deny the influence of the Civil Rights movement?).

So, let it. You don’t have to get behind it if you don’t want to. But if we reach the tipping point, the cascade of social change has the potential to benefit All Lives. And there will be a new set of powerful allies to help.

If you are struggling with the idea, ask yourself, what are you afraid of? If Black Lives Matter is successful, what do you have to lose? What belief that you hold is threatened? Once you figure out what is at the root of your struggle, you can decide if it is really worth holding on to. 

If you feel you need to hold up the perspective that All Lives Matter, remember:

“We must recognize that the suffering of one person or one nation is the suffering of humanity.” – Dalai Lama XIV

Saturday, November 1, 2014

101 Series: Three Frameworks of Practice

Folks that are just coming to the path of Paganism, Wicca, or Goddess-worship often ask “what do I DO? How do you practice this religion?” It’s an important question, but one that is not always easy to answer. For one, the question comes out of a culture steeped in the practice of religion, not spirituality. Whether we come from an Abrahamic background or not, we are influenced by the belief that religion must be done correctly, that there is a right and a wrong way to be religious.

One of the beautiful things about the Pagan path is that there is no dogma (or very little, depending on who you ask). Your connection with the Divine is your own. You create your practice and way of connecting. Because that is truly what we are all seeking – connection with the Divine, whether it be God, a Goddess, the Earth, the Universe, our Self.

There are of course nuances, and some practices do require a very specific set of instructions. There are also many traditions and flavors underneath the umbrella of “Paganism.” However, those are not the purpose of this post. Here I want to offer a short set of guidelines and explanation for those questioning how to create their practice of spirituality.

In the majority of Pagan practice, you will find three frameworks for practicing spirituality. There are many others, but we’ll start with the basic three: Daily practice, spellwork, ritual.

Daily Practice

This the foundation, the bedrock, of every spiritual practice. It is also the most challenging. Daily practice requires your commitment and dedication. There will be no one watching you, no one to provide feedback, no one to cheer you on. At first, it will likely be just you, and the struggle to establish and commit to a practice that may not offer any immediate rewards.

I encourage you to do it anyway.

If you are searching for personal transformation and revelation, this is the path to it. It is the path to a deep river, a flow of consciousness and understanding that would be very difficult to achieve if you were only engaging in ritual or spellwork. A daily practice will support your continued work and added layers to your practice. It will support a deep and abiding connection with deity and the divine. The struggle of it is part of the process. You will come face to face with your inner voice, the one that plays the tape of negative self-talk. You will face your fear. You will face the frustration of monkey mind, the part of your mind that will not stop thinking. You will face your attachments and judgments. There will be moments of bliss, but it will not be easy.

I encourage you to do it anyway.

Because eventually, the self-talk will shift to encouragement. Your fear will be comforted and embraced. You will surf the waves of monkey mind. Your attachments will fall away. Your heart will open, you will be able to remain centered and calm, and you will know a connection with the divinity within and all around you. You will know it was all worth it.
Now, I say all this knowing full well just how damn difficult it is, how nearly impossible it feels some days. I stumble and let go of the practice regularly, even after years. And that is ok. Keep your sense of dedication, forgive yourself if you falter, and get back to it when you can.

Ok, so, how exactly do you do a daily practice? That is actually pretty simple. However you want to! A daily practice is just dedicating a few minutes every day to yourself and your spirit. The key is to be as regular as you can, and to find one or two things that really work for you and stay with them. A few examples:

  • Silent sitting/meditating. Start with 5-10 minutes of sitting silently. Allow thoughts to arise and pass by. Focus on the breath. This will train you to center and focus for more intensive work. It can also be the most important step in tuning in and getting to know yourself, paving the way for personal transformation.
  • Candle gazing. This is really just meditation with a focus point. It can also help to awaken intuition and divination skills. Sit for 5-10 minutes gazing at a candle flame. You can look at the center of the flame, the edges, the space around it; just focus on the flame and your breathing. Don’t try to interpret anything about the candle or any experience you may have. Just go with it.
  • Chanting/Singing/Toning. This is a fun option for people that may have difficulty focusing on one object for several minutes. Sound can be very healing, and this practice can also help awaken the ability to enter trance. You can sit or stand or dance if you choose. Find a chant or a song you like and practice it daily. You could chant one of the many Goddess chants, or a mantra, or write your own. You can also tone, which is chanting sounds as opposed to words. Start with vowel sounds and let it flow. Chanting OM or MA are also good starting points.
  • Going for a walk or other activity in nature. Our spirituality is based in reverence for the earth, and so not all of our practices should take place within four walls. Find a park, a path, or a trail that you like, and go there regularly. Notice the plants and animals around you, the way the place changes with the seasons. Feel the earth beneath your feet and the wind on your skin. Practice feeling at peace and one with nature.
  • Altar-tending and Devotion. You don’t have to have an altar to start a daily practice. I’ll write more about building altars at another time, but for now just know that an altar can be anything that holds symbols or objects that are personally meaningful to you. Shrines are similar to altars, except that they are specifically a place for a representation of a deity to “live” and is respected as such.  Both can serve as a focal point for your practice. Giving devotion to deity can be an important part of daily practice, but you don’t have to start there. If there is a deity you are interested in getting to know, you can start with an object or symbol that is relevant to their myth and worship. Meditate on that object, chant their name, and see what comes to you.

Finally, keeping a journal or record of your daily practice and what comes up for you can be very helpful. Knowing that you will be writing down what happens can put your mind at ease to fully participate in the practice. You will also be able to keep track of your progress and note any meaningful events.


Spellwork, or Magic(k), is often what newcomers have the most questions and concerns about. Is it good, is it bad, how do I do it correctly? This is one practice in which there are some specific tools, techniques, and “ingredients” used to be effective. But, for those who practice it, spellwork is really a method of prayer. As Christians pray for something to happen in their lives or for divine intervention, spellwork is a similar plea but with a bit more action behind it. The practice of magic is the use of action with intent combined with the power of symbolism. People that practice spellwork feel it is a direct connection with the divine and/or the forces of the universe. It is the use of energy to effect change. Rather than passively asking for divine assistance, a practitioner takes an active role in creating the change they want. It is ultimately a self-empowering practice that builds trust in one’s ability to have control in their own life. As such, it can be an important aspect of a Pagan or Wiccan spiritual practice.

By itself, spellwork is at best ineffective and at worst will have unintended effects. It will not, in my opinion and experience, lead to any deep connection with or understanding of the greater forces of the universe and the Divine. But it can help strengthen that connection. Spellwork shouldn’t be feared, but it does need to be understood. There are also important ethical considerations that basically come down to DO NOTHING TO INFLUENCE ANOTHER PERSON’S FREE WILL.

There are many resources available on doing magic, and I am not going to go into great detail here. But I will offer a few suggestions as a place to start:

Candle Magic
Basic candle magic uses only a candle and your own will and focus, but can be very effective. Different colors have different associations (green for abundance, red for passion, blue for healing, etc) but you can always just use a white candle. Take the candle and focus on your intention, the purpose of the magic and the intended outcome. You can carve a word or symbols into the candle, cleanse and bless it with water and salt, anoint it with oil. Light the candle and gaze at it, speaking and holding the focus of your intention. You can let the candle burn down completely or do this for a number of days depending upon your intent. Of course, you should always use something fireproof if you are going to let the candle burn unattended.

Natural Magic
Natural and Elemental magic uses the magic, power, and symbolism inherent in the natural world. Think about the associations you personally make to earth, air, fire, water. What does a seed symbolize? The sun? The ocean? You can use the energy of this symbolism in your magic to create change. A natural spell can be whatever you choose, as long as it is meaningful to you. It can be as simple as holding a stone and speaking your intention, or sprinkling water to cleanse yourself, or putting salt and sand in a bottle to trap negative energy.

A lovely, classic book on natural magic that I highly recommend is Scott Cunningham’s Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.


Ritual is a structure that is used to define sacred space and do some kind of spiritual work, either solitary or with a group of people. Ritual can be a place to honor Deity, do spellwork, honor the dead, or engage in transformational work; oftentimes more than one of these will be done in a ritual.

Rituals often mark a significant event, such as a Full or Dark Moon, one of the 8 holydays on the Wheel of the Year, or a feast day for a Goddess. They can also be a Rite of Passage, such as an initiation, or a first blood rite, or a marriage ceremony. What makes a ritual a ritual is the general structure it follows. A ritual is more “in depth” than your daily practice or spellwork. The structure can change but generally will include some form of the following in this order:

  • Cleansing and Grounding. To prepare the space, body, and spirit for the work, we will cleanse with salt, water and/or smoke. We then center our awareness and ground our energy into the circle.
  • Casting a circle. This defines the sacred space we are working in and creates a magical boundary. The act of defining the sacred space is said to place us “between the worlds” where we are no longer fully in physical reality and have the ability to reach the Divine and affect change on the world.
  • Calling the Directions. We invite the four cardinal directions: North, East, South, West and the Four Elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Depending upon tradition you will start in the North or East and move clockwise, calling upon the direction and its associated element to join the circle and be honored. We then call Center – Spirit. This varies for different traditions, and sometimes this is combined with casting the circle.
  • Invocation. We invoke deity to the circle, to join us and be honored, to hear our prayers, and lend Her aid. The deity invoked will depend upon the type of ritual and who you are comfortable working with. I discourage invoking more than one deity into circle, unless you are very skilled and comfortable working with each of them.
  • Magical working, meditation, devotion. This is the “meat” of the ritual and is the essential purpose and intent. You should always have an intent for ritual; I discourage conducting a full ritual without a solid intent or work to do.
  • Sharing Food and Drink/Cakes and Ale. The sharing of blessed food builds community, and also does the important work of helping to ground us back into our bodies following ritual. You should always offer some to the deity and any other beings who lent their presence to your circle.
  • Devoking and Opening. Work in reverse to release the deity, release the directions (moving counter clockwise this time) and open the circle. I prefer to do this before food and drink.

Ritual can be an opportunity to begin deep transformational work and is an important aspect of practice. However to build the capacity and the foundation for good ritual, and to continue that work, it is very important to continue with a regular spiritual practice. It is also important to have someone to process with – engaging in spiritual work and transformation alone can be challenging when that transformation begins to happen. Having a trusted person to talk to will help you process the experiences.